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The party of order and the fear of freedom: American Conservatism and state violence

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It is frequently argued that the political culture of the United States has been dominated by liberal values. Yet there is good evidence that the American state has been particularly prone to sanction the use of violence against its own subjects – violence directed not only against those who were deemed ethnic or racial outsiders but also – more perplexingly – against insiders, like white workers. How can this be explained? This paper suggests that, contrary to conventional wisdom, there was an important strand of European-style conservatism in the United States. While labour leaders made regular use of the language of liberty, business elites and their political and military allies repeatedly reached for the language of order versus chaos. These conservatively-minded elites were the main instigators of state repression against insiders, especially during the periods of high industrial conflict from the 1870s to the 1930s. The paper considers why they were more prone to reach for repression than their European counterparts. It examines differences in their capacity to engage in repression – including the absence of an aristocratic officer corps and an independent state bureaucracy – as well as differences in the ideological environment.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/41682/

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